The findings of a study to be presented at Saturday s annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association in San Diego show that people aged 65 or older being treated with metformin for type-2 diabetes face a lower risk of heart problems or stroke compared to individuals taking sulfonylureas to control their blood sugar. In a trial of 8,500 people, only 10.4 percent of patients on metformin experienced a heart attack or other vascular event compared to 12.4 percent of those on a sulfonylurea. This, however, could be due to the fact that people who are started on sulfonylureas are often in worse health to begin with, explains Dr. Spyros G. Mezitis, an endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Though both drugs tackle diabetes, sulfonylureas are the oldest class of anti-diabetes medication, says ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross. The two classes of drugs operate under different mechanisms of action, which is perhaps why one has a more favorable cardiovascular risk profile.
As Dr. Jerome V. Tolbert, medical director of the outreach team at the Friedman Diabetes Institute in New York City cautions, I wouldn t bet on this study and say, Everyone stop taking sulfonylureas. But, he says, we are using less and less of these drugs because there are now newer and better drugs out there.